At some point around the All-Star Break last year, Royals fans came to the realization that in all probability, Ned Yost was going to become the all-time leader in franchise history in managerial wins.
This realization was met with almost universal incredulity. How in the hell could Ned Yost lap the patron saints of this franchise in Dick Howser and Whitey Herzog? Those two brought pennants and glory to the franchise. Yost used his alias, Frank, who ordered coffee at the local Starbucks and had his own hashtag: #Yosted. How was it possible that Yost could stick around long enough to pass the best managers in franchise history?
Little did we know last summer that the events of September and October would change everything.
Yost passed Herzog with his 411th win as Royals manager on Thursday. The K celebrated. Yost gave a celebratory on-field interview with Fox Sports 1. He got a Gatorade bath courtesy of Sal Perez and Alcides Escobar. And Kansas City thanked the baseball gods that Yost was their leader.
An absolutely amazing turn of events.
When Yost was hired as the Royals manager, I didn’t have high hopes. Sure, he helped developed the young talent in the Brewers organization, but his team spit the bit when it was time for them to win and it cost him his job. I wondered if the same thing would happen here. Or if he would even be able to lead a team to .500. To me, he was just another managerial retread. A guy like Buddy Bell.
The first three seasons, that’s who Yost was. Sure, his winning percentage improved each season, but it was incremental. To paraphrase Spinal Tap, his teams were treading water in a sea of mediocrity. Yet things were happening. The Process guys were getting the call. The Trade happened. And suddenly, Yost’s 2013 Royals finished above .500. That seems like small potatoes now, but we can’t forget that this was a pretty huge achievement.
The 2014 season brought heightened expectations. And the Royals stumbled. Badly. They hit the midway point of the year just two games over .500 and 6.5 games back of first. Immediately following the break, the team lost their first four games, one of which were Yost admitted he “outsmarted himself” when he brought Scott Downs in to face Jackie Bradley, Jr. but didn’t think about Jonny Gomes lurking on the Red Sox bench. Gomes homered. Ballgame. Same old Yost.
Despite the difficult losses, something was different about the team. Maybe it was the veteran leadership and the now infamous Ibanez meeting in Chicago. That’s what everyone points to as a behind the scenes turning point in a championship season. I would submit to you that that moment doesn’t happen, if Yost hadn’t set the tone in the clubhouse throughout his previous seasons. He’s every bit a player’s manager. Yost gives his players room and they have repaid him with respect. It’s an interesting dynamic that doesn’t always work. Given another team, maybe Yost’s methods don’t work so well. For the Royals, it was a perfect fit as they went 41-23 down the stretch to clinch their first postseason berth since 1985. They qualified for the Wild Card.
We know what happened in that game. We also know about the aftermath. The game has been celebrated and will continue to be celebrated. You simply cannot underestimate how the fortunes of a franchise swung on the outcome of a single game. If the Royals lose to the A’s, everything is different. Everything. The Wild Card win cleared the collective baseball psyche in Kansas City. It also did something to Ned Yost. It lifted some sort of burden. Maybe it’s a burden all major league managers feel. The ones who have yet to get to the post season. Especially those who have managed over 1,500 games in their career. Or maybe it’s just the ones fired in the midst of a pennant race with 12 games back.
We can’t forget, though the game served as a microcosm of Yost’s managerial career. For some still unsatisfactorily explained reason, he brought Yordano Ventura into the game to pitch to Brandon Moss. Like in Boston, Yost outsmarted himself. Instead of happening in a run of the mill July game, this was on the national stage. Posts were written during the game that Yost was a terrible manager. But then, the Royals, and Yost, rallied. He pinch ran and ordered steals. He bunted like a deranged lunatic. He pinch hit Josh Willingham for Mike Moustakas in the ninth. An obvious call, yet so massive. And so correct. He ran his bullpen for the rest of the game like a boss. Whatever the demons Yost battled as a manager, when Sal Perez hit that grounder down the third base line, they were exorcised.
Unshackled and playing with house money, Yost managed the postseason with the cool of a Vegas card shark. I think he knew he was lucky to be there. I also think he knew just getting to that point was the entire battle. Managers know this. The best teams may not always win the championships, but the best teams to get to the postseason. Yost survived. Yost won. And he was going to kick ass all the way to Game Seven.
Today, Yost is a hero in Kansas City. Forget needing a pseudonym to order coffee. He shouldn’t have to buy his own cup of joe for the rest of his days in our fair city. Maybe Yost is the same as he ever was. I don’t know. One thing that is certain, the house money is still good. Maybe the confidence wears better with success. It feels like there’s a difference. A little more swagger. It’s crazy. Suddenly, he’s our guy. Stay the hell out of his way, because he’s the manager of the reigning American League Champions. That counts for something. It also helps he has his team playing like October never ended. Success suits Yost.
That doesn’t mean he still won’t drive you crazy on occasion. He continues to bunt too much for my liking, but so does every major league manager. He avoids pinch hitting like it’s Ebola. And he still won’t rest Sal.
And Yost has won 411 games as a Royals manager. More games than any other manager in Royals history.
Someday, when this wild ride of a managerial career is over, they will have a day at The K to honor Yost. They will hang his portrait in the Royals Hall of Fame. The fans will cheer because they will remember the good times. They will remember he was the man in charge when baseball was reborn in Kansas City. The cheers will be long and loud as they echo across I-70. Yost will wave and will soak it all in with a smile, just like he did in the celebrations of October. We will never forget.
Thanks, Ned. For everything.